U.S. Reps ask governor to prepare for crab fishery disaster

- Several local Congressional representatives are asking Gov. Jerry Brown to closely monitor levels of domoic acid found in Dungeness crab and to prepare to provide economic relief in the event of a fishery closure.

In a letter, sent by U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman, Jackie Speier, Sam Farr and Louis Capps, the group is urging the governor to stand ready to ask the Secretary of Commerce to declare a disaster if the fishery is closed for the season, the group announced today.

The letter follows a vote by the California Fish and Game Commission earlier this month, establishing the indefinite delay of the commercial crab season due to the high levels of domoic acid.

The acid is linked to a toxic algae bloom found along the West Coast, stretching from central California to the Alaska Peninsula, state officials said.

A closure of the commercial fishery would have an impact on the economies of coastal communities in Central and Northern California, as well as the state as a whole, state officials said.

California's Dungeness crab fishery was valued at $60 million last year, according to state officials.

"Thanksgiving celebrations may not feature Dungeness crab this year, we can at least provide the assurance that federal disaster relief will be available to fishermen and affected communities and businesses if we lose the fishery," Huffman said.

"After being financially punished by a dismal salmon season this year, these same fishermen are now looking at no income from crab -- traditionally 50 percent of their income -- yet having to pay for their licenses and boat maintenance," Speier said. "If the season doesn't open soon, these men and women deserve a financial lifeline. I urge the governor to start preparing for a disaster declaration now."

During an emergency meeting on Nov. 6, the California Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to delay the start of the recreational fishing season for Dungeness and rock crabs, which was scheduled to start on Nov. 7.

On Nov 6., the commission then voted to delay the commercial Dungeness crab season, which was scheduled to start on Nov. 15. During the meeting the commission also voted to close the commercial rock crab fishery, which is open year-round.

The closure will remain in effect indefinitely until testing determines that levels of domoic acid, a neurotoxin that can accumulate in shellfish and other invertebrates, have returned to safe levels, state officials said.

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